Places Blackhat Playground – Reported To Be Closed

It seems that the newest blackhat playground of user generated input annoyance is the “Place is permanently closed” radio button in Google Places. I have been receiving an increasing number of complaints from readers that are seeing the flag. In fact Barbara Oliver Jewelry and Andrews Jewelers both experienced the dreaded yellow highlight on their Places Pages over the past week shortly after they were hit with competitor review spam. Apparently the flag is generated both by algo and humans but there appears to be an uptick in its use as competitors (and their blackhat proxies) face off in Places.

Until Google steps in and either changes the procedure or eliminates the option, there is little to be done to prevent someone from repeatedly flagging your listing and bringing the flag to the fore. If they have access to multiple IPs it can occur multiple times in very short order. I presume if the status is left as is, the listing will eventually fall from the results although just the flag alone is likely to diminish user calls to a business.

The only current remedy is to keep an eye on your listing and as soon as the “Reported to be closed” flag appears report via the “Not True?” link while logged in as the owner of the listing that it is in fact open. Then immediately head over to MapMaker and approve your edit and the flag will instantly disappear. The problem is that a motivated spammer, using multiple IPs and sock puppets can keep you hopping and it isn’t clear that Google will automatically put an end to the tomfoolery.

Like  community edits before, this problem demonstrates the vulnerability of a listing to  blackhat spamming activities in the form of community input. It also dramatically points out why Places should offer every legitimate claimant an automated business owner feedback mechanism that alerts them to major changes to the listing and to new reviews. It gets old very quickly sitting vigil over a listing being repeatedly hit with this absurdity when Google could easily send out a notice on a claimed listing.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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39 thoughts on “Places Blackhat Playground – Reported To Be Closed”

  1. I’ve had the same issue recently with a coworking spot of ours… I figured locals were messing with us or it was another G.places bug but good to know others are having the issue so G will take a look at it and hopefully refine the process.

  2. Hi Mike,

    I experienced this issue on my own Place Page about 6-8 weeks ago as I noticed my listing had vanished, I was shocked to see it was reported as closed. I immediately clicked not true but it had an impact on my visibility and I think that was when my “we do not support this location” issue happened (which you know all about).

    I agree this option should be removed there must be a better way of flagging up a business that is closed.

    Cheers,

    Andy

  3. @Chuck

    It can be Google algo but it can also be competitors.
    Sometimes when you click on ‘not true’ there can be an additional comment made by the person that actually reported on the listing. In that case, you can be sure that this was done intentionally.

  4. @Mike,

    It is total nonsense that changes can occur in G Places listings without sending the associated listing’s email address an email. The email can simply tell them what the change is about to occur and a link to dismiss it if not desired. It’s a good thing we don’t have that issue with registered domain names through the registrars or tons of websites would vanish.

  5. I keep seeing this a lot for tons of businesses I work with too. I have found that posting an update also makes it go away instantly.

  6. Hi Mike,

    In this post you mentioned ip addresses playing a role in the Google Mapmaker system.

    How precise is this assumption? Have you tested mapmaker using various ip address vs using only one ip address?

    Do you believe mapmaker reviews from specific local areas rank higher in the Mapmaker hierarchy?

  7. @ Imprezzio
    Have you tried it lately? It seems not to be working anymore.
    Also, as far as I see right now, you can’t even report ‘not true’, you get the following notification: “We’re sorry, your edits were not saved. Please try again later”

  8. @Abby
    Yes a comment is a dead give away.

    @Imprezzio

    I always do the update if I am able as well but on listings I don’t own, that isn’t possible.

  9. @Epank

    That information came to me via another practitioner that has seen this a lot. I have not tested it myself so at this point, it should be viewed with a grain of salt. I believe that MapMaker uses more of a trust rank system. This system (I think) evaluates a user based on the frequency and reliability of their previous edits.

  10. Mike:

    Thanks for flagging and writing about this. And one more opportunity for spammers.

    Of note I’ve found recently that places seems to respond more quickly to messages about errors. At least as I’ve reported them. Is that something that others have experienced?

    If they are responding more quickly….then with this twist, they are simultaneously quickly responding to the comments of spammers and attack competitors.

    Google, at times has called businesses to verify if in fact they are the REAL Business, prior to taking an action.

    This is the kind of action that absolutely should be preceded by a call or check with the actual business before changing the status of the record.

    Its such an outrageous attack strategy.

    Now I’ve got to check the status of a lot of businesses every day.

    Suppose I’m an operator of a chain of 50 or more locations. Do I have to check every one of these every day to ascertain if a spammer/competitor took down some of my records and then a dumb Google bot responded?

  11. I posted recently that I think allowing viable businesses to be marked permanently closed without any verification is verging on criminal neglect on Google’s part.

    It’s happening more and more. Check the reports in the forum. They have gone way up recently. I bet people are selling eBooks teaching “here’s an easy way to nuke your client to the top!”

    I know a Dental Google Places company that offers as part of their optimization service that they will nuke 1 competitor of your choosing out of the rankings.

    Half of these SMBs don’t know about all the potential GP problems so don’t know to check their Place page. This problem is severely impacting some businesses and Google can EASILY do something about it!

    Community edits are held in moderation until reviewed and this is the most severe type of community edit there is. They need to hold it in moderation and verify it before making it live.

  12. I really pity small business owners who have to rely on the Places as a major lead generating source. Google has to be considered the worlds poorest customer service organization. (I understand “who” their customer is may be up for debate) It’s the business community that pays the bills at Google.

    If Google would open a pay for customer service center… like 1-900-OMG-Help! for $10.00 a call, or $1.00 a minute, they could add 20% to gross revenue (I Made that percent up). Or just charge a subscription fee.

    Why are they so concerned with providing service? Many of the small business clients we work with really miss the old Yellow page book. You knew exactly where you would be listed, and what it would cost.

  13. I would like to make a few points:

    1) If you leave the listing with the “closed” status for a few days, it will eventually drop off the search results, or will experience severe loss of ranking.

    2) There are many companies all around the world offering services such as “removing competitors from first page”.

    3) Yes, mapmaker works on trust principle, as well as Google Maps. The opinion of a Trusted Reviewer is almost equal to the one of the verified owner. However, if there are numerous people reporting from different accounts a business as closed, what Mike explains in the article will happen.

    4) Lately, if a business is seen as “closed” by the algorithm, the message would be different than if the business was “reported to be closed”. It usually says “Google wonders…”

  14. Is this problem happening for approved businesses or only businesses that are waiting to be approved? I would think if a listing is claimed and approved that Google wouldn’t allow any changes to occur without the owner’s permission?

    This problem is especially difficult for businesses that have banned words in their name or are in problem industries so can’t get their listings approved. In these instances it seems anyone can request a change to a listing, including it show as closed and ultimately getting it removed per this blog article.

    I’ve seen several of my business associates have their listings attacked in this way recently — and 100% of the time their listing has been removed. Truly tragic blow for them.

    Note also many of them tried to give feedback that the listing wasn’t closed — and to the other poster’s comments — they were unable to submit the feedback after multiple attempts and then saw their listing removed.

  15. @Jeff M

    It can happen to a business that is claimed and verified. Both Barbara Oliver and Andrews were current and up to date

  16. @ Mike B

    Wow that is really scary. Hopefully with your viewership Google is taking note and will fix this problem asap.

    Intuitively speaking you’d think having a claimed and approved listing would make it sacred from attack and only the verified owner could allow changes to it — other than feedback to Google they need to review a bad listing that is known spam.

  17. Isn’t there an email notification sent directly the the owner asking for verification of the “closed” status. If not, this seems like a simple enough solution for this problem, if a time window is applied, say one week.

    For Google to allow such practices without owner verification is beyond me. We all know that blackhat will never go away, therefore, we must be vigilant with our site and Places listing.

  18. @Mark

    There is no active notification to the owner when this occurs. AS I noted above It also dramatically points out why Places should offer every legitimate claimant an automated business owner feedback mechanism that alerts them to major changes to the listing and to new reviews.

  19. @Abby thanks I’m keeping my eye on it regardless.

    The thing that was confusing me at first was when I logged in my listings were “Active” and inside the admin there’s no way to see that it’s closed or open or pending… Goog needs to handle some UI stuff in that regard. The way it’s handled now sucks.

  20. I think this really may be the worst spam tactic yet. I agree with the above comments – a Place Closed edit should trigger an email to the owner of the claimed listing and at least a week to verify whether the business is open or closed prior to Google taking such a devastating action.

  21. @ Chuck
    @ Miriam

    Chuck,
    What can I say other than agree with you?
    I think that by now, we’ve experienced almost everything-
    Active in the account but not online
    Active in the account but no dashboard
    Active but online- open for editing (!)
    Pending review but online
    Suspended but online
    & there is still a long list…

    Miriam,
    I guess there is a difference between ‘place is closed’ & ‘reported to be closed’ (I think Nygoslav just mentioned something about it above). I think that Google Places team actually call first the business owner after someone report the place to be closed (or any other report). ‘Place is closed’ is probably a result of bad/ lack of verification by the business owner. Does it make sense?

  22. Incredible the things legitimate business owners have to put up with. As I’ve said many times before, and has been said to me, there is no shortage of business to be had out there. Imagine if these individuals put as much energy into optimizing their own presence as they did to ruin others. Everyone could be successful in the same environment.

    Mike, thanks for continuing to point out these issues so others can be aware of them. With the resources they have, I think it’s incredible that Google doesn’t put some safeguards in place, especially when those safeguards could be automated.

  23. A few months ago my places entry got a fake review and it was also flagged as not existing. I only noticed the fagging because of the review.

    This triggered some of my clients to write their own reviews to rebut the fake review. I also responded to the “not existing” claim via the appropriate link.

    Unfortunately, this caused Google to suspend my account and since then I have tried several times to get them to re-enable it.

    In the last few days I have noticed my listing has completely disappeared. For a while it was still working via TrueLocal data.

    Another case of an underhanded competitor getting what they want!

  24. I’m fairly new to local SEO, reading all these accounts of the underhanded tactics from theses blackhatters has me infuriated. Someone should write a screenplay for Hollywood about a p’d off Business owner going vigilante “Boon Dock Saints” style on these cretins. I’d pay good money to see that!

  25. My company recently changed its brand name and I updated our Google Places pages accordingly for our different locations. They were all verified via postcard over two months ago. The other day I noticed Google stopped showing my listing and put it under review. I haven’t even touched the listing since the end of June so I’m unclear how / why they flagged it. Any thoughts would be much appreciated. Thanks.

  26. My God! Can people just leave Barbara Oliver Jewelry business alone? enough already, this poor gal is just trying to make a living. It’s shameful the way nefarious types have caused her Place’s page so much harm.

  27. OK ill change my name to suit the blog maker, and i believe my issues with Google are specific to the title.

    As of now i was able to get a few customers(3) to repost there reviews and my placement gained 2 spots with this.

    Is this flagging of a closed business something anyone has been able to get Google to stand and address or the typical give us a few weeks to look at it response?

    Im assuming the live ability to flag a business closed and then Google places getting around to checking it should get better as they are expanding the business places work force from what i have seen from doing a Facebook search on Google places.Lets hope some accountability is in order.

  28. Ill retype my initial response, on the 15th of this month my listing was flagged closed and a separate listing was generated and flagged also as a duplicate and a bogus review with another companies name and phone number was blatantly added. Well on the 23rd my listing was reviewed after many many posting in help section and the map maker page.

    That was 3 days of bliss as my business came back strong and then this morning i awake to find 34 reviews were missing. Is the review flagging something seen with the other flagging this blog is discussing?

    I dropped from initially #2 before any issues to #3 when my listing came back to #9 after my reviews went missing..Well i am getting a hold of a few of my long time customers to put there reviews back up and hopefully i can regain my placement soon.
    This nightmare that started on the 15th is really testing my resolve as a business owner and Buddhist. I know it will make me stronger but i gotta feed my family while getting stronger. I can say that now at 3 years in business i have suffered 5 attacks like this and im not sure there is a way to safeguard legit listings with as big as Google has gotten.
    > With the limited amount of employees they have and i know there trying to build a great team now is there time to catch up? Between locksmith spam and the Chinese attacks are they too big to police every micro inch of space they own? I really hope the live section of flagging can be fixed with out the almost instant taking down of the listing then the 1-2 week review time especially for a listing as old as mine.
    > I dont have all the answers, really i have very few but i would hope the ball is gotten on soon.

  29. Hi,
    I have a problem and I desperately need help, My Google places listing says this places is permanently closed, but it’s not true and I need it to be open, I have reported problems several times but nothing has happened, please let me know if you can help me through this.
    Thanks,

  30. @Negar
    1)Go into the dashboard and do a minor edit of the listing and resubmit
    2)Go into MapMaker and report as not closed
    3)Goto the Google Places Help Fix a Problem troubleshooters and report the problem to Google.

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